Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) is a hell of a charmer, aside from being handsome and bright. It’s no wonder that single mother Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins) falls for him fast and hard. Liz and Ted make for a picture of domestic bliss as they raise the former’s daughter, Molly, together over a number of years. However, their happiness starts to break down when Ted is arrested and charged with a series of gruesome murders. Liz struggles to stay loyal to Ted as she is forced to confront the man he truly is.
If there’s one positive thing to be said for ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’, it’s the stellar performances from Zac Efron and Lily Collins. Even in the opening scene where Liz and Ted meet each other with the former on death row, they communicate a lifetime of words in just a few looks, a powerful and mature accomplishment for two young actors.
Efron has grown much since his Troy Bolton of ‘High School Musical’ days, and while his go-to roles have typically been melodramatic romances (‘The Lucky One’), silly comedies (‘Dirty Grandpa’, ‘Neighbors’, ‘Baywatch’) and, well, more musicals (‘Hairspray’, ‘Greatest Showman’), ‘Extremely Wicked’ shows that the guy can act. He effectively captures Bundy’s “crazy eyes” as well as that obnoxiousness and sense of delusion which those who followed Netflix doc series ‘Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes’ (which Joe Berlinger directed as well as ‘Extremely Wicked’) will recognize. He’s so convinced of his innocence that he’d almost have you convinced.
Lily Collins, meanwhile, is extraordinary in the role of Liz. There’s a dense emotional weight to the role and Collins carries it with grace, evoking great sympathy as the character disintegrates. Unfortunately, the movie lets Collins down and underuses her. Bafflingly, ‘Extremely Wicked’ is supposed to be from Liz’s perspective, being based on her biography ‘The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy.’ However the movie is only from her point of view for the earlier part of the film. It never totally switches over to Ted’s POV either, culminating in a disorientating sense of perspective. There’s also a strange pacing to the movie, which may be owing to the director’s background in documentary filmmaking, as it skips over time periods without giving the audience an indication of when the events are happening. It makes for a jarring experience and one wonders if you'd be able to follow it without having seen ‘Conversations with a Killer’.
The film moves along at a quick pace at least thanks to its short, snappy scenes, and is punctuated by surreal moments of black humour. It effectively portrays the media’s obsession with the events surrounding Bundy, as well as the public’s – namely the women’s – fascination with the trials. As a court drama, it’s of middling quality, all riding on the back of Efron’s performance as Bundy and John Malkovich’s quips as Judge Edward Cowart. Moreover Haley Joes Osment’s storyline as Jerry Thompson feels artificial and hemmed in, as does the love triangle between Ted, Liz and Carol Ann Boone (who Kaya Scodelario brings an apt intensity to the role of). The final reveal that Ted was guilty all along also feels like a horrible misstep.
‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ is one of those hot mess movies that is all over the place but generally entertaining thanks to its brisk pacing and impressive acting. Its recreation of famous lines and moments from the Bundy trials during the end credits make for some striking final moments.